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Rex Murphy Point of View
November 25, 2009
It was the first big "surprise" that marked Stephen Harper's entry into the Prime Minister's office. He startled everyone by showing up in Afghanistan for his first foreign visit. Mr. Harper was willing to put his stamp on the mission - this very visible gesture showed he was going to be "out front" in his support of it, and very out front in offering the highest support to the officers and soldiers who were carrying it out.
In the early days, the Conservatives, in particular, (even though the mission began on a Liberal watch) made the case for Afghanistan often and compellingly. It was not Iraq. It was in line with Canadian values. It was NATO. It was the UN.
We were fighting a regressive, brutal enemy - remember General Hillier's famous description of "murderers and scumbags" – we were attempting to promote the minimals of democracy, and most especially to introduce schools and education to an entire gender, who would have been deprived of all the benefits of schools and education by the Taliban. Not incidentally, one of the most harrowing deeds of the entire conflict happened not long ago when mere schoolgirls had acid thrown in their faces because they were, girls, going to school.
For a while there these arguments had “profile”, the case was being made frequently if fitfully; and many - not all - Canadians supported the mission.
Now, well, now, things are different. Since the government announced the end of the mission for 2011, Afghanistan, except when there's a controversy, like today, is below the radar.
Are we there still to "aid reconstruction?" Does the goal of a "democratic" Afghanistan still apply? Does the cause of aiding the education of young girls still have the same noble relevance? Or has Afghanistan moved into the political twilight? - a cause best not mentioned, certainly one not to be actively defended. Are we merely waiting for "our turn" in the mission to end - and regardless of the degree of progress that has been made - then pull out - with so much unfinished, unresolved, and maybe fundamentally unchanged?
It is a very strange thing if this is so, for if our goals were worthy as originally stated, they are still so. What we set out to help fix remains to be fixed; young girls still need protection and education; Afghanistan is still poor and war torn. And, democracy is still a very good idea. Save that we have become weary of the conflict, and it is not as politically engaging as it was at the beginning.
And so, Afghanistan is very much a second-order issue in Ottawa, and the idea of the Canadian mission invisibly loses support and backing with nearly every day that passes. And hits the radar only, when, as today, a controversy gives it political relevance.
For the National, I'm Rex Murphy